Monday, May 28, 2012

Pompei & Naples

Oh, what a weekend I've had... On Saturday morning, my sister and I went to the main train station in Rome and went to Napoli, which was a two hour ride just south of Rome. We immediately went to the ticket station in order to catch the bus to Pompei, which is where we had planned to tour the ancient ruins. The weather was absolutely beautiful - almost 30 degrees with sun, sun, sun, making the emergency umbrella in my purse a menace. We met this nice American couple who were on vacation in Italy, and Pompei was their last stop before flying back to Iowa from the Fiumincino airport. We struck up a conversation with them, and luckily for us, they took Nicole and I under their wing and we all stuck together. If it weren't for them, navigating 
Nicole in the ruins.
around the trains and booths would have been much more stressful. It was also more comforting knowing that it looked like we were traveling with "mom and dad" instead of just as a pair.
Now... A lot of people say that my sister and I look like twins, while other people say we look nothing alike. It's kind of funny how people see us differently, but even though our faces have the same features and characteristics, our colouring is different. She has dark brown hair, I have blonde hair. She has naturally tanned skin, I have pale skin. She has hazel eyes, and I have blue eyes. Case in point: she can pass for an Italian, while I can only pass for a Scandinavian. She could go anywhere in Italy and kind of pass for a local, but 
Sleeping on a bed that just so happened to
be part of the world's first brothel... Oops!
Naples is a grand exception. In Naples, people can tell with a two second eye glance on whether or not you were raised in the city that presented the world with pizza and gelato. But I'll tell you more about Naples later, because we didn't really see the city until after our trip to Pompei that was a half hour train ride away.
Pompei was a resort town in the Roman Empire, located just a half hour south of Naples on the western coast of Italy. Many wealthy Romans at the time had "country homes" there, which they visited during their time off and especially during the summers, where Rome was to hot to bear with its crowds of people. In its prime, the city of Pompei had a population of nearly 20,000 people. Unfortunately, this part of Italy happens to be a highly active volcanic area, and August 24, 79 A.D proved it so. The entire city was buried by the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. While most people fled the eruption immediately, approximately 2,000 people opted to stay and were buried in the eruption along with the city. Most people died from a blast of poisonous gasses. The eruption lasted for nearly a day, the end result being Pompei buried under some 25 feet
of volcanic material, and Herculaneum (Pompei's neighbor to the north) with as much as 65 feet. After the eruption, the only savings from these two cities came from the memories of those who once summered there. Both Pompei and Herculaneum remained undiscovered until the 1700's, although it wasn't until the mid 1800's that careful recording of discoveries began. The lapilli and ash had done an amazing job of preserving the city, allowing people to visit and explore the ruins today. Ruins in which rocks still lay about where tourists can pick them up and discreetly put them in their purses to take home as souvenirs (Neither of us did that, by the way. Wink wink).
We spent approximately three hours inside, and when it was time to go, we met these two Canadian guys who were also waiting for the train back to Naples. They happened to be from Brampton, a city that is just an hour away from our hometown, proving the whole "it's a small world after all" theory to be true
When we arrived back to the train station, we agreed to walk around for a bit and experience real Neapolitan pizza, something that my taste buds were begging me to do.
This is the thing about pizza from Naples... It's the best you will ever have in your entire life. Period. There is no place in the world but this, and no pizzeria that comes from outside of this city that can make a more delicious pie. Then there's the famous pizzeria Da Michele, which is quite possibly the most famous pizzeria in the world. As heartbreaking as it is, the shop is closed on Saturday's, so we did not get to experience the pizza that had Elizabeth Gilbert in tears and that Oprah Winfrey bragged about forever. You must understand in order to truly grasp the importance of the pizza in Naples is that it was invented there, so even history tells us that they're doing it right.
The reasons vary as to why Neapolitan pizza is so delicious, and I have narrowed down the top five reasons as to why it can't be beat.
1. The history.
2. The secret recipes that have been passed down to each generation.
3. The tradition of Italian food itself, and taking time to make something the right way.
4. The coffin wood that fuels the burning ovens.
5. The fresh ingredients.
Nicole, the two Canadians guys and I walked just outside of the train station for a bit, where we gained a true sense of the city. Being there made me so thankful that I had chosen Rome as my humble abode for the past year, and thank God. Naples is crazy, loud, dirty, and dangerous. Even more so
than Rome, which I'm now quite comfortable with. I remember having a conversation with one of my neighbours who once explained to me that her and her family originally came from Naples, but that they had moved to Rome because it was safer. Rome is not actually considered a safe city, so the fact that they had chosen the Eternal City as their haven speaks great measures about the condition of Naples. There were cars roaring, beeping, honking and running each other over this way and that. Men were staring and making comments, and garbage had completely littered the sidewalks. Ladies - if you want to visit Naples, please do not go looking like a tourist, and bring a couple of your male friends along.
Yesterday was the communion of Giulia, the girl who I first au paired for when coming to Italy. She's turning 10 this upcoming August, and coming from a traditional Roman Catholic family, it was only given that she would have communion. Both my sister and I went to the church where Nicole met my old family, who still happens to be the kindest group of people that I know. I feel so lucky to have had two such wonderful families, and know that when I do come back to Rome, I'll have friendly faces there to welcome me back. We spent part of the afternoon at an outdoor bar eating finger foods, and I plan to visit the Masi household again before returning back to Canada.


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    Following the Spanish victory, Naples became part of the Spanish Empire, and remained so throughout the Spanish Habsburg period. The Spanish sent viceroys to Naples to directly deal with local issues: the most important of these viceroys was Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, who was responsible for considerable social, economic and urban reforms in the city; he also supported the activities of the Inquisition.
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